Cycling groups have praised West Midlands Police for becoming the first force in the country to proactively target “close pass” drivers who endanger riders.
Rules of the road stipulate motorists should give cyclists at least the same space as vehicles when overtaking.
Anyone encroaching inside that safe passing distance − widely considered to be a minimum of 1.5 metres − runs the risk of being prosecuted for driving without due care and attention.
Now West Midlands Police has launched an operation that sees officers saddle up on some of the region’s busiest routes − including Hagley, Pershore and Bristol Roads − looking out for motorists who put cyclists at risk.
Police pedallers will radio the details of close-pass drivers for in-car colleagues to intercept at a designated holding point.
Drivers will be offered a road-side educational input on safe overtaking but repeat offenders − or anyone deemed to have driven dangerously close to a cyclist − can expect to be prosecuted and taken to court.
West Midlands Police traffic officer and cyclist, PC Mark Hodson, said: “As a police force we must do our upmost to protect vulnerable road users and show that anyone who puts them in danger through poor driving will be dealt with.
“Cyclists may suddenly need to avoid uneven road surfaces or obstacles like drain covers so it’s important to afford them plenty of room when overtaking.
“We know through our work with the Birmingham Cycle forum that close passing is the single biggest deterrent stopping more people from taking to their bikes.
“Some drivers get tunnel vision; they’re only focus is on getting from A to B as quickly as possible. They don’t pay any attention to vulnerable road users and we’ve attended some horrific scenes where cyclists have been wiped out by drivers who’ve not even seen them.
“Drivers need to consider that a cyclist they are overtaking could be a police officer − and if they don’t pass them safely they could be prosecuted.”
Between 2010 and 2014 there were 530 KSI crashes (killed or seriously injured) in the West Midlands involving bicycles; the vast majority (84 per cent) of those saw riders colliding with cars.
West Midlands Police ran four test days last month ahead of the close-pass clampdown launch during which 80 drivers were pulled over and took part in the road-side educational input and agreed to have their details taken.
Over the summer West Midlands Police has prosecuted 38 motorists for driving without due care and attention having either been spotted by officers committing close passes or through camera evidence supplied by cyclists.
David Cox, Chair of Trustees at cycling charity UK Cycling, said: “Close passes by motorists are hazardous for cyclists and extremely intimidating; this may be due to ignorance of the Highway Code and carelessness but sometimes it is done deliberately and aggressively.
“We are delighted that West Midlands Police is to actively target close pass drivers. They are the first UK police force to do so and it is a priority if the West Midlands is going to achieve the health, congestion and sustainability benefits of more active travel. The outcome will mean greater safety for everyone who cycles or would like to use a cycle for everyday trips.”
The 15-minute road-side educational input involves officers illustrating the dangers of close passing to drivers on a full-scale floor mat that will be rolled out in the holding area.
The mat has been funded and produced through Birmingham City Council’s Birmingham Cycle Revolution which wants to see 10 per cent of all journeys made in the city using pedal power by the year 2033.
Councillor Stewart Stacey, cabinet member for transport and roads, said: “This initiative is all about reminding drivers of the need to allow enough space when passing cyclists; the road mat allows drivers to experience the safe passing distance from a cyclist’s view.
“I want Birmingham’s roads to be safe for everyone to use… at the end of the day we all have a responsibility to help ensure this, whether we have two, three, four or more wheels.”
Cyclists and motorists can report offences of driving without due care and attention to the police − and provide video evidence − by completing a Standard of Driving Self-Reporting form at a police station.
West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson said: “Anything that educates and, ultimately, prosecutes drivers who put cyclists in danger is to be welcomed.
“As a former Transport Minister, I made road safety one of the top priorities in my Police and Crime Plan and this scheme is an excellent example of what can be achieved.”